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Hart Authors Legislation to Address California's Idle Oil Well Crisis

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO, CA –Today Assemblymember Gregg Hart (D-Santa Barbara) announced Assembly Bill 1866, which will address the urgent climate and public health crisis of idle oil wells. The bill requires oil operators to develop a comprehensive plan to expeditiously plug the estimated 40,000 idle oil wells in California within the next decade. The bill also requires operators to prioritize plugging wells within 3,200 feet of where communities live, play and work. AB 1866 is supported by over 100 organizations across California.

"AB 1866 is necessary to solve the idle oil well crisis in California. This proactive solution will protect taxpayers, create thousands of jobs, and safeguard communities," said Assemblymember Hart. "Idle oil wells in California act as a major source of methane gas emissions, ground water contamination and air pollution. The facts are clear - this serious problem is getting worse and can't be ignored."

"Our current system for getting idle wells cleaned up is very badly broken," said Ann Alexander, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Oil companies are allowed to just sit indefinitely on their defunct wells without plugging them, leaving them to leak hazardous pollution into our communities. AB 1866 is a well thought out proposal to overhaul the system and position California to make real progress on its idle well problem."

"This bill will keep Californians from being saddled with the toxic costs of leaky, dangerous idle wells," said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "California's crackdown on polluters has to start before oil companies try to offload their cleanup duties onto the public. Oil companies need to stop delaying and avoiding their responsibilities to plug idle wells, and this bill will make them do it."

"California's current regulations have failed to reduce the state's counts of idle wells, which have continued to grow larger. This regulatory failure needs to be addressed immediately, before the state of California is exposed to additional economic risk," said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Director at FracTracker Alliance. "Assembly Member Hart's proposed AB 1866 provides a common-sense approach for California to manage idle oil and gas wells. It is essentially the same boiler plate regulatory structure that has already been proven to work in states like North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It will require oil companies to put skilled laborers to work, plugging and remediating the well sites that have generated billions of dollars in profits, rather than allowing them to be neglected and orphaned to the state."

"Our community is dealing with the crisis caused by oil companies abandoning their oil and gas wells," noted Linda Krop, Chief Counsel of the Environmental Defense Center. "Leaks from these wells cause air and water pollution, threatening public health, the environment, and our climate. We need to hold the industry accountable for cleaning up its mess, and save taxpayers billions of dollars in cleanup costs."

"AB 1866 will help ensure that polluters are paying to clean up their own messes, not taxpayers," said Jasmine Vazin, strategist with the Sierra Club "This is exactly the kind of legislation we need to pass here in California to require idle oil wells are cleaned up quickly, instead of sitting unplugged for years poisoning our communities."

At the current pace, it is estimated to take between 75-100 years to plug the majority of idle oil wells in California. Existing law requires operators to submit an Idle Well Management Plan and plug between 4-6% of their oldest idle oil wells per year. Operators also have the option to pay as little as $150 per well in order to avoid submitting a plan. This program is not working as intended. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of idle wells increased from 29,000 to over 38,000. It is estimated that if all idle oil wells become orphan, it could cost taxpayers over $10 billion to plug and remediate these sites.

AB 1866 increases the percentages of idle wells that operators need to plug each year, and eliminates the option to pay insignificant fees in-lieu of a plan. AB 1866 will also require operators to prioritize plugging wells that are within 3,200 feet of communities, and wells that pose a threat to life, health, property or natural resources.

Gregg Hart represents the California Assembly's 37th Assembly District, which includes Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Buellton, Solvang, Lompoc, Guadalupe, Santa Maria, Orcutt, and Nipomo.

He currently serves as the Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

CONTACT: Jimmy Wittrock, (916) 319-2037,